Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category

Sarah. But Solo.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

This is my first post of the new year – and my first post being 31! My birthday was two days ago and I had a very lovely day with the girls and a friend. However it is not my first post in which I begin by explaining why there has been such a lengthy gap between now and the last. But this time I have a really good excuse. My best ever, possibly. This one would come with a big red bow to remove with a flourish and a ‘ta-da!’ feeling about it. So before I begin, I know it’s been a while since New Year’s Eve but I am officially announcing my resolution for 2013 – and that is that there will be a minimum of two blog posts a month, and hopefully a great deal more if I can find a way of writing about what my life will entail. More and more these days I’ve seen those letters ‘FML’ appearing on people’s Facebook statuses and I look at them and I think – oh yes, familiar feeling.

                My excuse, and the cause of all this misery is, as I posted on twitter a few weeks ago, that my husband and I have separated and he has moved out. It wasn’t a sudden thing, it’s been years in the coming if I’m honest, but about four months ago something happened that hastened the process. It’s not a particularly easy thing to have to live through and it’s even less easy to write about, well, I’m sure I could write about it in all sorts of detail but I don’t think that would be very fair on the parties involved so I shall confine myself to the impact upon me. Which has been, and I’m sure will continue to be, very interesting. Living alone with the two girls is an eye-opener, literally. No-one else is going to get out of bed at 7am to make their breakfast any more, or read endless bedtime stories, or check essay progress. For the first time in my life I am properly In Charge. I may get myself a badge to stop the girls looking at me sceptically.

                Before the separation I didn’t have to worry about a lot of things. For example, cooking. My husband was (probably still is) a very talented chef so he catered beautifully every night. The consequences of this were that he also did all the food shopping because he knew exactly which ingredients he wanted, and this, coupled with his claim that if I went I spent twice as much and came back with half the food, made sure that I was never allowed near a supermarket. I still don’t go near supermarkets, I have discovered Ocado – which seems to me a wonderful compromise. I’m still getting the hang of organising meals though. I can cook precisely four different things in terms of actual, grown-up, proper meals but the girls are getting a bit bored now so I’m having to branch out. But whereas dinner before involved braised chicken, tarragon and homemade sauces, or steak and dauphinoise potatoes, it is now far more likely that Sharwoods would make an appearance in my kitchen rather than a paring knife. But nobody minds and it all seems to go along with no real problems – there’s been no incidents of starvation or food poisoning yet so I think I’m doing all right.

                However, where homework is concerned things change and I find my heart sinking on an almost daily basis. Molly’s homework is completed at school during Prep so that’s not a concern, but the second term of Year 1 for Alice has seen her begin to bring home many and varied sheets of paper to complete each night, plus her reading book, plus her flash cards. If I glance at the sheet and it’s English, then that’s fine, we can do that. If however I glance at the sheet and it’s covered in horrible little sums then that is not all right. Obviously she’s only five years old so the sums aren’t very complicated (e.g. ‘9-3’ would be the toughest), but the problem arises when I find myself in the position of having to teach Alice how to work the answer out. Anyone who is familiar with me from Maths lessons at school will know that I am literally the last person who should ever be given the responsibility of teaching a child anything Maths-related, and if we run out of fingers to count on then it’s game over. I got the lowest grade in my entire school year for Maths GCSE – C, Intermediate tier. Luckily, 10 other GCSEs involving As and A*s, plus an AS-Level, plus 3 A-Levels at A,A,C and a Law degree do go some way towards mollifying me for the C in Maths. Perhaps it’s time to let it go. Anyway, after attempting the Year 1 numeracy homework I find my enthusiasm for ploughing painfully through a repetitive story with Alice about ducks and rabbits and running and hopping strangely depleted so that doesn’t tend to go very well.

                There are upsides though. With my husband gone I pay 25% less council tax and I have a lot more space for all my things. In his wine glass, for example. And also in his wardrobe.  And his shelf in the bathroom. And his space on the shoe rack. And his space on the sofa now that I come to think of it, I can stretch my legs out for the first time in nine years. Neither do I have to contend with his snoring, or stealing of the duvet; I’m sleeping more peacefully than I ever have. I can watch exactly what I want on the television or I can read in silence instead if I wish, I am currently working my way through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books as light relief. I don’t have to talk if I don’t want to (apart from to the children which can be done on auto-pilot if strictly necessary) and nobody nags me about how much I use my phone.  It’s all rather marvellous actually. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.        

Fawlty Towers – the Welsh way

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

I’ve just got back from a whirlwind trip to Wales. We were accompanying my husband on one of his overnight jaunts there – the girls have finished school for the summer and we thought – well why not? Why not indeed. I wasn’t anticipating writing a blog post about it, but the trip turned out to be so much fun and so eventful that I couldn’t resist. Especially after all my tweeting, which if you read it, gave some insight into our hotel. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We went to Wales via Berkshire to collect my eldest daughter from her father (I’d messed up the plans a bit) which meant that I had done her packing for her. I looked around her room, considered what she might want to take with her – and ignored it. She got: clothes, a toothbrush, a cuddly toy, three books, a notepad and a pen. I was determined that she was not going to watch endless films in the car or play her DS or listen to music, she was going to USE her IMAGINATION. Unfortunately I forgot about her intelligence and bartering skills which, when used in conjunction, meant that she spent the entire time “…just completing a level…” for the younger daughter on her DS Lite. Big sigh.

Once we were over the Severn Bridge we headed straight for Caerphilly.

Caerphilly Castle and moat

It was my husband’s choice, and not once did he let us forget it. For those of you that have never been, Caerphilly Castle is very beautiful. It’s big, for a castle; in fact it’s the biggest castle in Wales and one of the biggest in Britain. It’s surrounded by a huge moat which had about a hundred geese swimming on it, and the grass everywhere was completely covered by daisies. In the warm sunshine of Sunday it was idyllic. It’s currently in the process of being restored however, which for me spoiled it slightly. When I drew comparisons it lacked the atmosphere and raw beauty of Corfe Castle which is one of my favourite places in the world. Caerphilly seemed a bit more gentle, somehow. It also had very little in the way of information about the various rooms. There were an awful lot to look at but they all seemed exactly the same after a while which was a shame – if you don’t know the purpose of the room you can’t create the vision of what might have happened in there, who might have walked through there and why and imagine what they would have been wearing, etc. But it was a bit more child-friendly than Corfe which was appropriate for the girls; they made daisy-chains and ransacked the shop.

And from there we went straight to our hotel. I’m never particularly bothered about where we stay, as long as there’s a decent bar for us to sit in, a nice restaurant and it’s clean then that’s fine by me. And our hotel looked very impressive when we drove up. It was a sprawling, white-painted, eighteenth century house with extensive grounds and surrounded by fields full of sheep and grazing horses somewhere just outside Abergavenny.  It was also very nice when we walked in; very clean, very fresh and very new. The floors were wooden and there was an unspoiled cream carpet stretching up the wide staircase. Some leaflets about weddings had been artfully arranged on a nearby table – and the place was silent. There was no reception desk or office or indeed any sign of life. So my husband wandered a bit further into the hotel and found someone after peering through a doorway – which turned out to be the bar. The bar that clearly doubled as reception. It seemed odd at the time – but not for very long.

We went up to our room, noticing as we did the doors to the other rooms upstairs were all propped open. Again, it seemed odd, but our room was all lovely, with bunk beds, and a double and single bed. My eldest daughter enquired whether the latter bed would stay free – we laughed at the time but by the end of our stay I was simply grateful that it had. My husband’s eyebrows shot up when he saw the price of the room service food that we would need to feed the girls with, but we had little option. By this point it was almost 6pm and they were hungry. When he ordered, my husband was told “It’ll be at least half an hour, as he’s only just got in.” We naturally assumed that the proprietor was talking about the chef, but as things turned out it could well have been the cat. Anyway, the girls ate, we put the tray outside the room for collection as is the norm in hotels, and then it was bedtime – they were sleeping in bunk beds for the first time and as I exited the room to go downstairs all I could hear was my younger daughter yelling “Stop wobbling my BED!”. It was then that the vague unease started. It was also viciously light in the room despite the curtains being drawn – I would discover the reason for this in the morning.

Downstairs, the bar was full. Of one family as far as I could make out. They had pulled all the available chairs into a circle in the middle of the room which left us with nowhere to sit. It didn’t really matter because we had requested to move our restaurant booking back by half an hour as we were running late but we were told that we couldn’t because “He only works two hours on a Sunday.” Fair enough. I was quite pleased to see other people as up until this point I hadn’t seen another guest. So we went straight through to the restaurant and it was then that the proprietress appeared for the first time. I was pleased about that too, it all had a League of Gentlemen feel to it up till then. We ordered a bottle of Sauvignon from the wine list – and were met with a perplexed gaze – “Oh right then. Oh, OK.” She chewed her thumbnail for a bit. “Right you are.” And she scurried off – outside. Very far away from the bar. But wherever it came from, the wine appeared so that was all right. Then the menus arrived. At first glance they were very good – there was a very extensive range of meals. But as my husband pointed out afterwards – it was a little too extensive. We should have known. But we didn’t. We also thought nothing of the fact that the restaurant was deserted but for us. I ordered smoked haddock, though I was a little confused by the description, which was “a pot of smoked haddock on a bed of spinach”. A pot? A pot of fish? This didn’t sound quite right. So I asked the proprietress what a ‘pot’ of fish was and she answered “Well – it’s just the haddock on the spinach.” I said that I understood that but why was it called a pot? She repeated again that it was haddock on spinach. I tried a third time with no luck and then gave up, I’d have to take my chance.

In under seven minutes our meals were on the table, which rang immediate alarm bells – and probably meant a more literal bell had rung – that of the microwave. And seven seconds later my fears were confirmed, the food was ghastly. Inedible. From this point onwards the whole thing was a rather funny disaster. I had managed to overlook the fact that the restaurant was empty but for us, the fact that no other rooms seemed to be occupied upstairs and that the owners were a bit vague. But I could not overlook the fact that the haddock tasted exactly like boil-in-the-bag fish, it was so tough it was like chewing rubber, and the spinach (if indeed it was spinach) looked like it had been put through a garlic crusher. I’ve never seen spinach in such tiny pieces in my life. You could have got a good five or six on the head of a pin. After eating half I gave up, it was just too awful. When the proprietress arrived to collect the plates she looked rather doubtfully at mine and said “Was it all right?” in tones that implied she knew it was not, but I lied of course, like a good, polite, British girl, and said yes, it was lovely. And with the food gone, there was nothing else to do but drink the wine. Which was unfortunate for my husband because no-one had furnished him with a wine glass. We sat there and waited…..and waited….and waited. There were no staff anywhere in the building at all, it appeared. Meanwhile all sorts of raucous noises were coming from the family next door in the bar, over the top of which we could distinctly hear some bleating. Some sheep-like bleating. It was so loud it surely had to be in the room. I looked at my husband aghast. Are sheep allowed in hotels? I doubted it, but then this was Wales. Perhaps there are different rules about sheep? There was obviously something odd going on, the bleating continued for ages. My husband then went to check on the girls and while he was gone the proprietress appeared again, did we want desserts? I said yes, I thought we might and mentioned that I didn’t usually eat dessert (missing out that the reason I might tonight was because the main course had been so awful.) And that set her off:

“Oh no, me neither. I did at lunchtime today and now I just feel so fat” – puffs out cheeks and stomach and pats with her hands – “and it was lovely but I am starting to get a bit heavy and I don’t like it, not at all.” I muttered something about life being short. “Well yes, it is but when my belly starts hanging over my trousers I really don’t like it, and I look at people like Judith” – who is Judith?? – “and she’s so reckless about her weight, she’s getting ever so big but she doesn’t care and I just don’t want to be like that. They say you shouldn’t eat potatoes and things don’t they? I wouldn’t mind that, but I can’t give up wine. I drink ever such a lot of wine, I do. I love it. And salad. And rice. Do they count as carbohydrates?” I said yes, rice does. “Oh I can’t give up rice. I got two dishes back there I’m going to eat in a minute. Anyway, what can I get you?” It was after this little speech that things started to slot into place for me, the small oddities I’d noticed suddenly seemed totally in character with the people that ran the hotel. My husband came back, we ordered dessert and after she had disappeared he told me that they were all in the bar watching a programme about sheep-shearing, in favour of actually looking after us. Can you get any more Welsh, I wondered?

By this point it was long after eight thirty and I assumed the mysterious chef had gone home. It appeared not when she came back ten minutes later with the cheese board my husband had ordered and said apologetically: “That’s all he’s got, I’m afraid. He’s run a bit low.” ‘All’ was a huge chunk of cheddar and two tiny, oozing, possibly decades-old, pieces of Brie.

“Is that all right?” I whispered to  my husband, who was looking a bit shell-shocked.

“Er – well – it’s a bit over-ripe,” he said, tactfully.

“Do you mean it’s off?”

“Yes. I think I do.”


He ate some of it manfully, nonetheless, but gave up in the end and went to the bar to get a wineglass and another bottle of wine. However it turned out that the hotel only had that one bottle of Sauvignon. It was literally unbelievable. After some discussion we deduced that the place wasn’t really set up for guests like ourselves, they were interested solely in making money from weddings – the clues were everywhere. Like the fact that we were the only guests. And to be fair, it was a beautiful place to hold a wedding reception. But can you make enough money from that to sustain the entire hotel? Well – with a few weddings per year, economising on cheese and the price of room service food, I suspect that the answer is yes.

Our suspicions were further confirmed in the morning when we opened our bedroom door to find last night’s food tray still sitting outside, congealed remains of lasagne untouched. It showed that there were no rats around, I suppose. No rats – and no staff. When the proprietress came to serve us breakfast in her pyjamas, there could be no doubt about it. There was clearly no-one else around but the lady and her husband – and a few sheep – to run the hotel. All these references to the mysterious ‘he’ were nothing more than a feeble façade; there had never been anyone else around. It was just too Fawlty Towers-esque for words. They were genuinely very lovely people and I would have hated to offend them by complaining, but I certainly wouldn’t go back to the hotel. It was all very amateur, I suspect this may be their first season there; they have a LOT to learn. As do I where windows are concerned – in the morning I discovered the window shutters that I should have used the previous night to block out the light so that my children could actually sleep. I thought the curtains were a bit flimsy. In a different hotel you wonder whether they might have mentioned it, but there wasn’t a hope of that in this one.

We did go on to have a lovely day in Hay-on-Wye (oh the books!) and Brecon, but that is a whole other blog post…..

room service - the morning after

Getting it right.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Finally! I have time to write a blog! Apologies for my lengthy absence; I have been very unproductive for the last few weeks on all fronts, and I’d love to blame this on my children. But I can’t, it wouldn’t be fair. Because it’s my husband’s fault. He’s just had two weeks off work and although it’s been lovely to have him around (childcare is so much easier when there’s two of you) it has meant that my routine has rather gone out of the window, and especially as far as writing is concerned. I’m at a particularly delicate bit of the manuscript at the moment, my characters are in terrible emotional distress, the scenes are highly charged and it’s taking quite a lot out of me to write. In many ways I wish I didn’t have to get involved with their difficult and complicated lives, but there we are. So picture this scene if you will: there I am, focussing and concentrating, trying to think how I would feel if it were me going through these difficult emotions, and as any writer will know when you’re writing this stuff you are actually there with your characters. The scene will absorb you, you are living their lives. And then in wanders my husband and on goes the cricket in the background. And from that point on I am subjected to a running commentary of the game; who has thrown what ball, how many runs have been made by whatever player. I quickly become very familiar with the state of Kevin Pietersen’s limbs and how many spectators the ground can hold as my husband gently chatters away. All fascinating stuff, I’m sure, but not when I’m in the process of wrecking my characters’ lives. And interspersed with the essential cricket updates he’ll also discuss any interesting news articles that he’s found, “Darling, have you seen they’ve discovered a new type of worm?” etc. And then when he’s run out of ways to try and have a conversation with me, there’s the questions:

“I’m going to have a coffee, do you want one?”

“No, thank you.”

“Are you sure? Do you want anything else?”

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Really? Not even a cup of tea?”

“YES. I’m sure.”


So then he bangs about making said coffee, he might flick the radio on for a minute and as he idles his way back to the cricket he might stop to glance over my shoulder or give me a kiss – all lovely but it does make me grit my teeth when I’m trying to write. So the sum of this is: I got absolutely nothing done when he was off work. Today is the first day in about three weeks that he has actually left the house to go to work and I am quite enjoying the peace, a whole day stretches before me with no cricket……or worm news.

Sophie Raworth was in the headlines yesterday on a rather interesting topic – how much time should we be spending with our children? And by spending she means actually focussing on and engaging with, not merely being present in the same building. It’s a very interesting question. The issue has come up because many parents are forced to work long hours and therefore some form of childcare is a necessity. In most families both parents work, and even more so if they want things like private education, foreign holidays, second home in Gstaad, Jaguars, boats – whatever it is. Sophie talks about the American concept FAST – Families and Schools Together – and experiments with spending a solid fifteen minutes focussing solely on one of her three children whilst her phone beeps with emails and texts that she cannot look at and her other two children vie for her attention. She finds it harder than she thinks. I imagine this is because she is a working parent and is used to being able to attend to her work duties freely. Fifteen minutes I could manage easily because I don’t have a 9-5 job and I’m used to being a stay at home mother, but therefore no-one understands better than me just how boring it can be sometimes to spend time with your children. There are times when I am deeply grateful to have my BlackBerry by my side so I can check Facebook while I pretend to watch Angelina Ballerina. It is all about balance. And so, the question really becomes – if you are working so hard to afford a nice lifestyle for your children that you barely see them, when is it better to forfeit some luxuries in exchange for simply spending time at home with them? I don’t know anyone who has an ideal balance, most of my acquaintances are feeling their way through life tentatively trying to make the best decisions that they can, whether they have one child or four or are just considering having a baby. I have a friend who has just begun a year’s sabbatical from her very successful career, enabling her to spend more time at home with her daughter, and from speaking to her there were a number of factors, not least that she felt that she could afford to at this point in time. I imagine a decision like that is a difficult one.

For me, I do consider myself a good parent. I make sure my children eat the right food at the right times, I make sure they’re in bed by 7:30pm each night; I make sure they drink lots of water and get plenty of fresh air. I take them to school and I pick them up. I watch school matches and swimming galas. I help  with homework, I ask my eldest daughter about her day in school and listen as she tells me about her lessons and her friends. We discuss the things that she enjoys and the things that she would rather not do. I help her make decisions about things she finds difficult or scary. I watch for signs that something is wrong. I read my younger daughter endless stories and help  her craft princesses out of plasticine (no mean feat, let me tell you). We bake cakes together and go for walks. Currently, I spend much time listening to her eulogise about the Ice Age films. BUT – this aside – I am very, very bad at playing with my girls. I can do all the above willingly and happily, but ask me to get on the floor and be a cat and I simply cannot do it. Neither can I do role-play with Barbies, Disney princesses or farmyard animals. Games of hide and seek – yes, a game where we all have to pretend to be a character from Peppa Pig – no. Absolutely not. In these situations I pass the baton to my husband, who is much, much better than I am.

Does this make me a bad parent? I have no idea. My natural sense of confidence in my parenting ability makes me think not. Again, I don’t know anyone who considers themselves a perfect parent, ultimately we learn as we go along and we hope not to make too many mistakes. But as Sophie ultimately concludes, I believe that if I give my children my time, love and attention they will want for very little else. Except perhaps a mother who can be Cinderella or Mummy Pig at the drop of a hat. Although I must be honest and say I don’t know any mother who has those particular skills.

My debate today will be: do I let my youngest daughter watch her new DVD twice in a row? Good parenting sense dictates no, my need to write dictates yes. If her father were here they would be watching cricket together. So there we are – I may not be subjected to interminable facts about Andrew Strauss and Freddie Flintoff today but I will have to entertain my four year old alone. Suddenly a whole day without her father being around seems rather long……..

Sophie’s article: